Holiday Cheers! at the KGB Bar with Steven Gould and Rajan Khanna

By Mark L. Blackman: On the evening of Wednesday, December 17, the Fantastic Fiction Readings Series hosted readings by authors Steven Gould and Rajan Khanna in the Red Room at the KGB Bar in Manhattan’s East Village. The Bar, up a steep and very narrow stairway, known for its red walls and Soviet era-themed décor, seemed incongruously bedecked with Christmas wreaths and lights, making perhaps an even more fitting venue for sf readings.  The Series, co-hosted monthly by award-winning editor Ellen Datlow and Mathew Kressel, presents readings (always free) both by well-known speculative fiction writers and up-and-coming future luminaries, nicely epitomized in the night’s double bill.

Customarily, as the audience settled in, Datlow whirled around photographing the crowd (the photos are posted on the website). The event opened with Kressel welcoming the audience, thanking the Bar and announcing upcoming readers: On January 21, 2015, Gregory Frost and Andy Duncan; on February 18, Mike Allen and Ben Loory; on March 18, Caitlin Kiernan and Lisa Manetti; and on April 15, James Morrow and Ken Liu. (It was reported that Kiernan would soon after be moving from the area to Georgia. “Which one?” In a place named KGB one couldn’t make an assumption.) He then introduced the first reader of the evening, a personal pleasure, as Rajan Khanna is also a friend.

Khanna’s short fiction has been published in Lightspeed Magazine, Beneath Ceaseless Skies and several anthologies, his articles and reviews have appeared at Tor.com and LitReactor.com, and his podcast narrations may be heard at Podcastle, Escape Pod, PseudoPod, Beneath Ceaseless Skies and Lightspeed. It was easy to see why, as his soft voice is, as we heard, well-suited for narrating.

Rajan Khanna

Rajan Khanna

He presented several scenes from his first novel, Falling Sky, which was released in October. The story is set in a post-apocalyptic near-future where fuel is so expensive that airships have come back, and, if that weren’t cataclysmic enough, there’s a global pandemic, the Bug, that regresses people to a violent, animalistic (and, of course, hungry) state; they are called Ferals, and their blood splashing on one is enough to spread the infection. The first scene that he read was set on the Cherub, the protagonist’s, Ben Gold, airship; his companion, Miranda, is among those trying to cure the Bug, taking what he views as unacceptable risks. In a later scene, he is driven from the ship, his only home. The final scene read was selected, because, as Khanna noted, Ben is Jewish and “it’s Hanukkah” (for the record, it was the second night). Ben, settled on an island refuge, encounters a rabbi and his makeshift synagogue, and reminisces about his father and his cursory education in his religion during what was already the era called the Sick. (Understandably, and already living in the Cherub, he identified with the story of Noah.) Reinvigorated, he resolves to regain his airship. (As a “token Jew,” said Kressel, “I approve this message.”)

Steven Gould

Steven Gould

After an intermission, Datlow introduced the second and final reader. Gould – not to be confused with the late evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould – the author of 10 science fiction novels including Jumper, has been a finalist for the Hugo, Nebula, Compton Crook, Locus and Prometheus Awards, and the recipient of the Hal Clement award for Young Adult SF as well as having his novels cited by the American Library Association as best books for young adults. During the 1990s, Jumper – which, by the way, I heard him read from way back at the New York Review of Science Fiction Readings when they were at Dixon Place – was one of the most banned books in the U.S., which, he has mused, “only shows that most people should read past page nine.” He read from his latest novel, Exo, the fourth official book in the Jumper series.

(There is a fifth book, Jumper: Griffin’s Story, that is a tie-in to the 2008 movie Jumper, which only cursorily resembled the novel.) The series begins with someone, Davy Rice, who can teleport, and, as it proceeds through Reflex and Impulse, we find out that others can as well. “The real secret to teleportation,” says Gould, “is reading. Be transported, imagine!”

In Exo, from which he read, Davy’s now-teenage daughter Cent (short for Millicent), who shares the ability, uses it to go into space (in a pressure suit). The selection began slow, with techno-jargon about adding velocity to a teleport, then became amusing as Cent’s satellite phone company intercepts her conversation with her father, baffled as to how and why her handset is orbiting west to east some 210 miles up, moving at 45 miles per second. (That’s not in her family’s plan’s Terms of Service!) Unfortunately, Gould’s reading was briefly interrupted by sirens outside; there arose such a clatter, that people flew to the window to see what was the matter.

Books by both readers were for sale at the back of the room from the Word bookstore in Brooklyn. Much of the audience hung around for a while afterward, then an expedition headed out for dinner.

Otherworldly Interface at the KGB Bar With Nancy Kress and Jack Skillingstead

KGB Bar

KGB Bar

By Mark L. Blackman: On the bone-chilling evening of Wednesday, November 19 the Fantastic Fiction Readings Series hosted readings by authors Nancy Kress and Jack Skillingstead (who, despite having a similar-sounding name, is not the guy from The Nightmare Before Christmas). (For those who don’t know, in addition to sharing this reading, the two share a life; they have been married since 2011.)

The Series, co-hosted by award-winning editor Ellen Datlow and Mathew Kressel, monthly presents readings both by eminent speculative fiction writers and up-and-coming future luminaries of the field, though it has a different feel from the New York Review of Science Fiction Readings.  Its venue, the KGB Bar in Manhattan’s East Village, is known for its red walls and Soviet era-themed décor.  (To the New York Dept. of State it’s the Kraine Gallery Bar.) Up a steep and very narrow stairway, dark and dimly-lit, depending on one’s leanings, the bar is cramped – the room (cleverly called the Red Room) is usually SRO within minutes of opening – or cozy. But the crowd is always fascinating, drinks are reasonable, and readings are always free. (As it happened, I shared a table with Nancy’s sister Kate, and, for a brief time, at the next table was a non-sf fan/reader who had just stopped into the bar for a drink and was somewhat mystified by our gathering.)

The event opened with Datlow, taking a break from photographing the crowd, welcoming the audience and announcing upcoming readers:  On December 17, the readers will be Rajan Khanna and Steven Gould, on January 21, 2015 Gregory Frost and Andy Duncan, on February 18 Mike Allen and Ben Loory, on March 18 Caitlin Kiernan, and on April 15 James Morrow and Ken Liu. She then introduced the first reader of the evening.

Nancy Kress

Nancy Kress

Nancy Kress is the author of 33 books, including 26 novels (The Sleepless Trilogy among them), four collections of short stories and three books on writing, work for which she has won five Nebula Awards, two Hugo Awards, a Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award and the John W. Campbell Memorial Award. Her most recent book, Yesterday’s Kin, a standalone novel from which she read, is about genetic inheritance, a common theme in her fiction.  Genetic engineering, she observed in prefatory remarks, is the wave of the future, as well as fascinating to her personally.  (For the novel, she researched mitochondrial DNA.) In her selection, an evolutionary biologist is drafted by the FBI to join a UN team of specialists to analyze an expedition of aliens whose ship, or “Embassy,” is floating in New York Harbor. The aliens, called Denebs, even though they are not from that star (perhaps it’s analogous to Columbus dubbing the natives Indians), are reclusive, not emerging and communicating only by radio that they’ve come in peace to contact humanity. (One hopes that their mission is not to serve Man; the title might be a clue to their identity.)

Jack Skillingstead

Jack Skillingstead

After a short intermission, Kressel took the podium to introduce the second and final reader. Jack Skillingstead has published more than thirty stories (among them a Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award finalist), which have appeared in various magazines, Year’s Best volumes and original anthologies, and two novels; one, Life on the Preservation, was a finalist for the Philip K. Dick Award. He read from his collection of short fiction, Are You There and Other Stories, “the best story that can be read in 20 minutes,” “Everyone Bleeds Through.” No one timed him; he held the audience rapt with the enthralling story of a driver whose hitchhiker turns out to be otherworldly, from a reality that has “bled through” to ours.

Books by both readers were for sale at the back of the room from the Word bookstore in Brooklyn. Afterward, an expedition headed out for Szechuan dinner.

Raffle Supports Fantastic Fiction at KGB

The Hosts of Fantastic Fiction at KGB are raffling off donations from well-known sf and fantasy authors, editors, artists, and agents to support the reading series.

Among a myriad of prizes are a signed galley of Catherynne Valente’s Deathless (plus a handmade necklace), your very own wormhole with a certificate of authenticity by physicist Michio Kaku, and three unpublished stories by Michael Swanwick where you own the rights till 2015, or one of a myriad of other prizes. Or you might simply take away the pleasure of supporting a popular literary event.

The raffle continues from October 11 through October 25. Raffle tickets will be $1 each and can be purchased from www.kgbfantasticfiction.org

The full press release follows the jump.

[Thanks to Andrew Porter for the story.]

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